Traveling with Children: Keeping Up With Airport Security Rules
With current security threats, it seems like the rules for airport security for domestic and international airline travel can change overnight.
Because they do.
After the foiled 2009 Christmas Day terrorist attack over Detroit, when a Nigerian man tried to detonate an explosive device on a Northwest Airlines flight, one mom heard a rumor you could no longer put your purse in the diaper bag to get through the security checkpoint. Another heard that baby food was no longer allowed on board airplanes.
Rumors like this circulate on the Internet, at the office, and even in the local papers.
But both of these rumors were untrue: You may nestle one bag inside another as long as your carry-on meets the size requirements of the airline you are flying. In fact, travelers departing from American airports are allowed to bring one carry-on bag, as well as one additional item (a purse, laptop computer, small backpack or camera case) through security.
And although other liquids are prohibited in sizes larger than 3.4 oz (100 ml), breast milk, pre-mixed formula and baby food in reasonable quantities (only as much as you will need while traveling), are allowed through the X-ray machine if you are traveling with an infant.
How can parents find out what is fact and what is fiction in the world of airport security?
There is one certain way to be sure that you are informed about the most up-to-date security requirements: Check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Web site.
"I advise parents to check the TSA site even before they begin to pack," says travel expert Donna Hull, who blogs about travel at MyItchyTravelFeet.com "Official rules and any changes are published on the site, eliminating rumors that might not be correct."
Hull further advises parents to be aware that almost all travel restrictions and regulations will also affect their children.
"The most common mistake that parents make is assuming that the rules will not apply to their children," Hull says.
While the specific regulations change frequently enough that it is imperative to check the TSA site, here are some rules to expect:
Passengers 18 and older must have a valid ID to travel: While children are not required to have a government-issued ID, bringing identification for your children is always a good idea when you travel. For more details about what IDs are acceptable, see the TSA web site.
Do not bring wrapped gifts in your carry-on luggage: While you may carry-on wrapped items that you purchase after going through security, pre-wrapped gifts are discouraged. Security officers will likely need to unwrap them to look inside.
Leave the (large) liquids behind: Liquids (such as shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and saline solution) in your carry-on bag must be in quantities smaller than 3.4 oz (100 ml). Put anything larger in your checked luggage or leave it at home.
Some items may be checked but not carried on the airplane: Ski poles, baseball bats and hockey sticks are all allowed on airplanes but must be placed in checked luggage. For a detailed list of what is allowed and what is prohibited, check the TSA site.
Once you've informed yourself of the travel rules and restrictions, be sure to talk to your children.
"Prepare kids ahead of time, discuss what to expect, but assure your children it's no big deal," Hull says. "Be sure they're wearing shoes that are easy to take off. Organize items to go through the X-ray machine in one bag for easy access, before arriving at the airport. The quicker a family proceeds through security, the less frazzled the children will be."
For more tips on how to get through security checkpoint with kids, see "Security Savvy for Moms and Dads."
Jennifer Margulis, a writer and mother of four, has traveled to Europe and Africa with her children and is a frequent contributor to Disney Family.